Silver hopeful on bridge tolls

By Josh Rogers

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said Friday he remains hopeful the State Senate will come up with a way to prevent huge subway fare increases and deep service cuts.

“Either we are going to have a substantial increase in subway, bus and commuter fares, a substantial reduction in service, or we are going to find a revenue stream that allows us to maintain service, to severely limit the amount of increase the M.T.A. will charge for its services,” Silver told Downtown Express.

He said a new revenue stream is the only acceptable option. A few weeks ago, Silver proposed charging drivers using the East and Harlem River Bridges subway fare prices, and adding a payroll tax. Silver has not identified a payroll tax rate, but his compromise proposal is a modification of the Richard Ravitch Commission plan to toll the bridges as much as $5 and to add a small payroll tax of $165 for every $50,000 in salary for all city and downstate employers.

He said the tolls would net close to $600 million and Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials have told him that it will be enough to avoid the so-called “doomsday budget” which includes a 23 percent fare hike and massive service cuts.

“They say they can work with it,” Silver said.

The toll idea has stalled in the senate, but Silver said he continues to meet with State Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith and Gov. Paterson, and he is hopeful they will be able to agree on a revenue plan.

It may be less difficult to pass the tax than the tolls in the senate, but Silver said he will not split the measures. The business community will only support the tax if they also see drivers being charged, he said. Businesses have told him, “Give us a supplement from people who use their cars.”